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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 50: California

California has spent the last 88 years at good old Memorial Stadium, where you can sit and watch the game for free on Tightwad Hill if money’s tight — just don’t wear a red shirt, if you please. The streak ends this fall, due to some much-needed renovations at the home field: Cal will play its home games at San Francisco’s AT&T Park in 2011, marking the first time since the 1923 Big Game that the Golden Bears won’t host opposition in Berkeley. How will this affect Cal’s season? Will fans come to AT&T Park, particularly students? That’s a big question, as while only 25 miles separate the university from the field that’s a long way to go for many fans accustomed to rolling out of bed and into the stands at Memorial Stadium — or onto the dirt on Tightwad Hill.

Conference
Pac-12, North

Location
Berkeley, Calif.

Nickname
Golden Bears

Returning starters
12 (7 offense, 5 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 35

2010 record
(5-7, 3-6)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 73

2011 schedule

  • Sept. 3
    Fresno St. (in San Francisco)
  • Sept. 10
    at Colorado
  • Sept. 17
    Presbyterian
  • Sept. 24
    at Washington
  • Oct. 6
    at Oregon
  • Oct. 13
    U.S.C.
  • Oct. 22
    Utah
  • Oct. 29
    at U.C.L.A.
  • Nov. 5
    Washington St.
  • Nov. 12
    Oregon St.
  • Nov. 19
    at Stanford
  • Nov. 25
    at Arizona St.

Last year’s prediction

The big question, as was the case last season, is the defense. There are a few players to replace at each level, particularly in the secondary. The good news is that Cal has players ready to step up; along the line, for instance, Cameron Jordan is poised for a big season. Until it shows improvement, however — and we might not be able to tell until the heart of Pac-10 play — the defense remains a concern. Altogether, Cal is very good team, one easily capable of landing a spot in the Top 25. Much, if not all, depends on how the Bears fare during their tough stretch of Pac-10 road games from late September through early November.

2010 recap

In a nutshell For the first time under Jeff Tedford, Cal failed to reach bowl play. And no, it was not because of a questionable defense. Not in the least: Cal finished the year ranked 18th nationally in total defense, 21st against the pass, 21st in sacks and 17th on third down. So my concerns were woefully unfounded; where I really erred, however, was in projecting this offense to return to its 2008 form. Nope, that didn’t happen. The Golden Bears took a significant step back from 2009, even, scoring only 310 points, significantly less than the program’s next-worst offensive showing under Tedford. It was the defense that kept Cal in games against Oregon, Arizona and Washington; it was the offense that lost those games. That’s extremely frustrating, especially since Cal first made its way into the top half of the Pac-12 thanks to Tedford’s deft offensive touch.

High point I’d guess Colorado, as that 52-7 win not only pushed Cal to 2-0 but also led many to believe the offense would live up to expectations. The year’s best performance, however, came in a 50-17 dismantling of Arizona State on Oct. 23. That was Cal’s last home win on the year, and will be the last win at Memorial Stadium until at least 2012.

Low point Three losses by a field goal or less. There’s Arizona, a 10-9 loss, and Washington, a 16-13 loss, but Cal fans will always remember how close the Bears came to unseating then-No. 1 Oregon on Nov. 13. It wasn’t just the two-point loss but the way it came about: Cal had a 24-yard field goal called back in the fourth quarter due to an illegal motion penalty against the kicker — the kicker! — and had that same kicker miss the ensuing 29-yard try. In all, Cal dropped three straight home games to end the regular season. And before I forget, I should add that the Bears lost to Stanford.

Tidbit Cal’s seven losses in 2010 came against teams that combined to go 64-27 on the season. Three of those teams, Nevada, Oregon and Stanford, combined to go 37-3, and only one, Oregon State, failed to reach bowl play.

Tidbit (Big Game edition)  Cal’s 34-point loss to Stanford in the Big Game was only the program’s second loss in the series since Tedford’s arrival in 2002. But the margin of defeat was Cal’s largest since losing to Cardinal by 41 points in 1930. It’s the third-largest in the rivalry’s history, joining the 1930 loss and a 41-6 loss in 1926.

Tidbit (100-word preview edition) It’s that time again. Here’s how it works: I give you a quiz question; you become the first person to answer the question; you win the opportunity to pen a 100-word preview of your favorite team when it appears on the Countdown. Get it? Good. Here’s the question:

Cal alumni Aaron Rodgers and Desmond Bishop won Super Bowl rings with the Green Bay Packers this past January. That the pair participated in the game at all gave Cal at least one representative in each of the last 10 Super Bowls. Can you name the Cal players who have played in the Super Bowl, whether their teams won or lost, over the last 10 years?

Teams already spoken for California (Katster), Iowa (M Meyer), Mississippi (Flint Foster), Nebraska (Alex Payne), Northwestern (NUwildcat09), Oregon (Eksynyt), Pittsburgh (htp2012), Texas (Burnt Orange), Texas A&M (Ol’ Rock), Washington (Dr. Klahn).

Former players in the N.F.L.

38 LB Lorenzo Alexander (Washington), DT Tyson Alualu (Jacksonville), CB Nnamdi Asomugha (Oakland), LB Tully Banta-Cain (New England), RB Jahvid Best (Detroit), LS David Binn (San Diego), LB Desmond Bishop (Green Bay), QB Kyle Boller (Oakland), S Chris Conte (Chicago), OG Brian Del La Puente (New Orleans), S Thomas DeCoud (Atlanta), LB Zack Follett (Detroit), RB Justin Forsett (Seattle), LB Scott Fujita (Cleveland), OG Mike Gibson (Seattle), S Matt Giordano (New Orleans), TE Tony Gonzalez (Atlanta), P Nick Harris (Detroit), WR Lavelle Hawkins (Tennessee), CB Dante Hughes (San Diego), WR DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia), DE Cameron Jordan (New Orleans), LS L.P. LaDouceur (Dallas), K Ryan Longwell (Minnesota), RB Marshawn Lynch (Seattle), C Alex Mack (Cleveland), DT Brandon Mebane (Seattle), LB Mike Mohamed (Denver), TE Cameron Morrah (Seattle), OT Ryan O’Callaghan (Kansas City), QB Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay), TE Craig Stevens (Tennessee), LS Nick Sundberg (Washington), OT Mike Tepper (Indianapolis), CB Syd’Quan Thompson (Denver), WR Verran Tucker (Kansas City), R Shane Vereen (New England), OT Langston Walker (Oakland).

Arbitrary top five list

Writers with California-Berkeley ties, with notable work
1. Jack London, “Call of the Wild.”
2. William Vollmann, “Europe Central.”
3. Joan Didion, “The Year of Magical Thinking.”
4. Philip K. Dick, “The Man in the High Castle.”
5. Beverly Cleary, “Dear Mr. Henshaw.”

Coaching

Jeff Tedford (Fresno State ’83), 72-42 over nine seasons in Berkeley. His winning percentage (63.2) is the third best in school history, trailing only Andy Smith (79.9 from 1916-25) and Pappy Waldorf (67.0 from 1947-56). Tedford turned Cal into a winner so quickly — 7-5 his first season — that many have overlooked the situation he inherited. The program went 16-39 over the five seasons before his arrival — the forgettable Tom Holmoe era — bottoming out at 1-10 in 2001. The Bears have experienced nearly unprecedented success under the former Oregon offensive coordinator, finishing nationally ranked in four of the last seven seasons. How has he done it? With a dynamic offense, for starters, one typically paced by his latest project under center. Sometimes, however, his Golden Bears ride the running game, not their quarterback, illustrating Teford’s flexibility and penchant for adapting to his personnel – the mark of a top offensive mind. Prior to serving as the offensive coordinator under Mike Bellotti at Oregon, Tedford coached six years at his alma mater (1992-1997), the first year as quarterbacks coach and the final five as offensive coordinator. In 2006, the Bears were co-Pac-10 champions with Southern California. Cal is 5-2 in bowl games under Tedford, making him the only head coach in the history of the program with more than two bowl victories. And, most importantly, Tedford is 7-2 in the Big Game; Cal lost seven straight to Stanford prior to his arrival. You cannot overestimate what that means to the Cal fan base. And no, I don’t think the bloom is off the rose. He needs a winning season, but the program would be foolish to place Tedford on the hot seat.

Tidbit (coaching edition) It’s not a coincidence that Cal’s finest seasons offensively came when Tedford himself was calling plays, which he did over his first three years with the program. After relinquishing those duties, by and large, in the years since, Tedford will go back to calling plays for the Bears in 2011. New-old face Jim Michalczik is back in Berkeley, where he coached from 2002-8, after spending the last two years as the offensive line coach with the Oakland Raiders. Michalczik will do the same with Cal while adding the offensive coordinator title, and while Tedford will call plays he’ll have a role in game-planning. Tedford also added former Wyoming offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo as his quarterbacks coach, which should free up some time for Tedford to focus on play-calling.

Players to watch

Is the receiver combination of senior Marvin Jones and sophomore Keenan Allen’s the Pac-12’s best? It’s safe to make that statement, in my mind: Jones (48 receptions for 756 yards) is steady, while Allen (496 yards receiving, 136 yards rushing) is a ticking time bomb — a threat for six whenever he touches the ball, a receiver built in the same mold as DeSean Jackson. Is Allen quite that good? Well, few players can quite match Jackson’s explosiveness, but Allen is clearly poised for a big-time 2011 season. This pair will do much of the heavy lifting in the passing game, with Coleman Edmond, Michael Calvin (13 receptions for 147 yards) and Kaelin Clay the leading reserves. Anthony Miller (13 for 152) headlines a thin group of tight ends, one made thinner by Spencer Ladner’s knee injury. Cal has the receivers to make the passing game work; does Cal have anyone who can get them the ball?

Former Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard, Allen’s half-brother, got the nod at quarterback in May, outplaying senior Brock Mansion and sophomore Allan Bridgford for the starting role. Mansion had his shot last fall, when he replaced an injured Kevin Riley, but did not do enough during his starting duty to warrant holding onto the spot. As the starter at Buffalo in 2009, Maynard threw for 2,694 yards and 18 scores against 15 interceptions; not great numbers, but there’s clearly potential here. Maynard is also an adept runner, which might give this offense a new look under Tedford, one Cal hasn’t seen over the last decade. I think it’s safe to say that he has a rapport with Allen, which is a good start. It’s also not a stretch to say that Maynard holds the key to Cal’s success on offense: the program hasn’t had extended solid quarterback play since 2006. Will Maynard be Tedford’s next quarterback project turned good?

Isi Sofele (338 yards) takes over for Shane Vereen at running back after being the primary backup a year ago. The question isn’t whether Sofele can break a big run, because he clearly can; the question is whether he can take the pounding, as his smaller frame suggests he can’t be a 20-carry back. We’ll know the answer for sure come September, but Cal needs a complimentary option. It would be nice if junior Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson would be that guy: not just because he has yet to tap into his potential, but because he could be the bigger back to Sofele’s shifty running style.

Two starters must be replaced along the line, but Cal does bring back five linemen with starting experience. One is senior left tackle Mitchell Schwartz, a second-team all-conference pick last fall and a starter since his redshirt freshman season. Brian Schwenke returns at left guard, senior Justin Cheadle at right, ahead of mammoth redshirt freshman Geoffrey Gibson. Not surprisingly, the two other linemen with time in the starting lineup will assume the roles vacated by Donovan Edwards and Chris Guamero. One is junior Dominic Galas, who takes over at center. It’s time for junior Matt Summers-Gavin to step into a starting role: after starting four times at guard in 2010, Summers-Gavin is a slightly undersized starter at right tackle.

Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast earned praise for the way his defense held tight with Oregon, Arizona and others, but his success in those games overshadowed how his defense failed miserably against Nevada, U.S.C., Oregon State and Stanford. In short: Cal took a step forward last fall, but the defense needs to seal the holes, playing more consistently, to help the Golden Bears offset some issues offensively. Can the defense do so? I have no doubt it can.

There are two pretty successful starters to replace, however. The first is end Cameron Jordan, a major contributor off the edge. Who fills his N.F.L.-sized shoes? Senior Trevor Guyton, that’s who, one of last year’s best pass rushers (29 tackles, 4.5 sacks) despite his part-time role. Can Guyton do even more as a full-time starter? There’s no reason to think he can’t, though it’s up to Guyton to embrace the opportunity in the lineup. He’ll join senior Ernest Owusu as Cal’s starting ends, with freshman Gabe King and sophomore Deandre Coleman the top reserves. Coleman has the size to move inside in certain packages.

Cal also has two options at nose guard. Junior Aaron Tipoti will start, mainly due to his very good size — he’s about 310 pounds, which is great for a college nose guard. But junior Kendrick Payne will play plenty, especially if he’s back at full health after an injury-marred 2010 season. You could probably say that Payne would start if he had Tipoti’s size, but he’s a bit too small to stand up down-after-down in the middle of the line.

The Bears will have a new look at linebacker without the services of all-conference pick Mike Mohamed, last year’s leading tackler. It’s an easy move, but Cal is wise to transition senior Mychal Kendricks (66 tackles, team-best 15 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks) into Mohamed’s spot inside. Kendricks is terrific; his partner inside, D.J. Holt (85 tackles, 5.5 for loss), is a game-tested senior. It seems strange to say, considering how good Mohamed was, but Cal might not miss a beat inside.

Are these freshmen that good, or is Cal short on choices at outside linebacker? As with Sofele at running back, we’ll know in September. As of today, the Bears are going forward with a pair of freshmen starting on the outside in this 3-4 defense: David Wilkerson is a redshirt, Cecil Whiteside a true freshman who was on campus for spring drills. Cal could turn to a more experienced linebacker like Ryan Davis if one isn’t ready to go, but it seems like the Bears are going forward with the rookies outside.

Position battle(s) to watch

Secondary Four players with starting experience are back in town, but the real issue stems from a lack of depth. Or what might be a lack of depth: perhaps incoming freshmen Avery Walls and Stefan McClure can step right into major roles, though that’s a lot to put on a first-year defender’s plate. Safety Sean Cattouse (59 tackles), an honorable mention all-conference pick in each of the last two years, is the most experience returning defensive back; he needs to be more consistent, however. But Cattouse is clearly locked into a starting role, with senior D.J. Campbell, a one-game starter last fall, his likely running mate at safety. Junior Josh Hill has dabbled at safety but is currently penciled in as a leading reserve at cornerback, though I don’t doubt he could move over if either starting safety goes down to injury or battles inconsistency. For now, it’s junior Marc Anthony (48 tackles, 2 interceptions) and sophomore Steve Williams at cornerback, and that’s not a terrible combination. But where’s the depth? Cal should be awfully concerned about life throughout the secondary if any of the starters — or a key reserve like Hill — suffer an injury, as a group of freshmen look like the next in line at several positions. That’s one of the major stories surrounding this defense in 2011: the pretty heralded crop of true and redshirt freshmen in the secondary. There’s no doubting this group will one day make an impact in Berkeley, but 2011 might be too soon to hope for major snaps.

Game(s) to watch

Each home game is noteworthy. There aren’t very many clear wins to find on this schedule, outside of Presbyterian, so Cal will need to dig and claw for each victory. Games against Fresno State, Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State are must-wins if the Golden Bears are to return to bowl play. The Pac-12 North is out of Cal’s reach, but that doesn’t make the Big Game any less interesting. The Bears head to Stanford on Nov. 19. And what of that game with Colorado? Well, it’s a Pac-12 game, but it’s not: while the Buffaloes make the move to the conference in 2011, that game counts as a non-conference game for both teams.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell So I’m pretty bearish on Cal in 2011, it seems. Most are looking at the following and penciling the Golden Bears in for a tough season: last year’s poor play, the new starter at quarterback, the unproven quantities at running back, the losses in the front seven and a thin secondary. Those are very valid concerns, to be fair. But I have faith in this defense’s ability to win games on its own and Tedford’s ability to coordinate this offense as the play-caller, slight concerns or no. I have a little more faith in the defense than the offense, at least as of today. The Bears are strong up front; this front seven is paced by a terrific duo of inside linebackers, but there are potential difference-makers at outside linebacker and along the line. The lack of proven depth in the secondary is a worry, but don’t confuse that with a lack of talent: there’s plenty of that, even if some comes in true and redshirt freshmen. On its own, I think this defense can win five games. Can the offense do enough to get Cal back into the eight-win range? Maybe, but I feel safer predicting a 7-5 finish. Much depends on how Maynard fares against big-time competition. If Tedford can reclaim his reputation as a quarterback guru, we could see a night-and-day improvement offensively. Of course, I can’t say that’s going to happen — even if Maynard is an intriguing starter. The Bears have to find a running game, but I still think the offense will be better. Cal’s not going to compete for the North division title, but the Bears will be better, back in bowl play.

Dream season The new quarterback, new starters and new home field don’t bother the Bears in the least: 10-2, 7-2 in conference play.

Nightmare season The offensive issues continue to plague this team, and a slide on defense seals a second straight 5-7 season.

In case you were wondering

Where do California fans congregate? There are plenty of options when it comes to message board chatter, beginning with Bear Insider and continuing with Bear Territory and Cal Sports Digest. The Cal fan base also touts several good blogs, such as California Golden BlogsExcuse Me For My VoiceBear Talk and Bears With Fangs.

Word Count

Through 71 teams 209,663.

Up Next

Who is No. 49? The mayor of the city housing tomorrow’s university is a retired member of the U.S. Postal Service, a veteran of the Vietnam War, a member of the Dandridge Avenue Neighborhood Association and a member of the First A. M. E. Zion Church.

You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. taybax says:

    Tennessee is next?

  2. 'Catatonic Tim says:

    Tennessee at 49?

  3. wildcat6 says:

    @taybax

    Yep, Daniel T. Brown.

    The Tennessee Volunteers are #49.

  4. delawaresinglewing says:

    berkeley is in the PAC-12 North

  5. Hokieshibe says:

    XLV-Aaron Rodgers, Desmond Bishop
    XLIV – Alex Fujita
    XLIII – JJ Arrington
    XLII – Ryan O’Callaghan
    XLI – Matt Giordano, Tarik Glenn
    XL – Chidi Iwuoma
    XXXIX – Tully Banta-Cain, Je’Rod Cherry
    XXXVIII – Tully Banta-Cain, Je’Rod Cherry, Todd Steussie
    XXXVII – Langston Walker, Regan Upshaw
    XXXVI – Ja’Rod Cherry, Chidi Ahanotu

    If this is correct, I’ll take VT

    Paul: Got it. Not a real tough question, but it took some leg work, I’m sure. You got the Hokies.

  6. Nick Seevers says:

    Cal and Stanfurd are in the Pac-12 North

    Paul: That’s the second time this summer that I’ve made that mistake. Sorry about that, guys. Hope it doesn’t detract too much from the other items in the preview. At least I had Stanford and Cal in the same division.

  7. Matt Rob says:

    Good call on “The Man in the High Castle” as the notable work from PKD.

  8. manicblue says:

    Cal is in the pac12 North division. A couple times you wrote that they are in the South.

  9. manicblue says:

    Sorry … should have refreshed the page before posting.

    Paul: No, don’t apologize. Bad mistake on my part, worst yet this summer. But in my defense, I didn’t put California in the wrong division, per se, but mislabeled the North as the South. Still, pretty bad.

  10. Hokieshibe says:

    My answer was for all the Cal players on SB team rosters. Do I need to specify which made it onto the field, or did I get it?

  11. OskiGoDumb says:

    If Michalczik can shore up the line, even just a bit, Gould has a ton of talent coming in to push Sofele and Deboskie-Johnson. Juco transfers CJ Anderson and Mike Manuel, RS frosh Trajuan Briggs and true freshman Daniel Lasco all have a shot. If true freshman Brendon Bigelow’s completely healthy he’s downright Jahvidian…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyKC_31BfY4

    I think the ‘pretty bearish’ 7-5 prediction might prove tough considering the schedule, the weird ‘home’ venue for only 5 games and questions all over the offense.

    Very minor quibbles: AT&T is only 13 miles from Memorial and BART/MUNI makes it practically door to door from campus so it shouldn’t be too tough to get there. Also Cecil Whiteside isn’t a true ‘true freshman’. A 2010 recruit, he grey-shirted last fall and was in school this January. Looked awesome this spring.

    Go Bears!

  12. michael says:

    The schedule is very tough for a team not playing a single home game (it makes a difference) regardless of how strong the defence was last season. Ten pac-ten teams, a hungry (starving, really) Fresno State side who’ve wanted their shot at their friends up north for a decade… 7-5 may be asking much for this squad and 50 is likely high. They travel to Oregon, Washington, and Stanford – teams they couldn’t beat at home last season – and face six bowl-eligible sides from the previous season. Playing in a baseball stadium will mitigate some of last season’s home field advantage.

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